Revenge Ride is a movie that pulls no punches, both in terms of the intensity of the topics it explores and the literal violence it depicts. It tells the story of Mary, a college student who is raped at a frat party then taken in by an all-female biker gang that vows revenge on her behalf. Led by her abuser Keegan, the humiliated frat boys retaliate, leading to a conflict that quickly spirals out of control.
Complete with a real biker gang as extras, Revenge Ride is a wild, action-packed movie, which manages to examine a sensitive subject very gracefully.
We spoke to actors Vanessa Dubasso (Mary) and Jake Lockett (Keegan) to find out more about the movie ahead of its premiere at this year’s Grimmfest.
Kirstie: Tell us about your film Revenge Ride.
Jake: Revenge Ride is a Tarantino/Rodriguez-style film with lots of blood and guts, mixed with some intensely heavy topics that we address in a way that I think is nuanced and respectful to someone who may have gone through a situation like that. It’s fun. It’s fast-paced. You’re there for an hour and fifteen minutes, so you’re not sitting around waiting for the first act to be done – you’re ready to rock.
Vanessa: It’s a great project and it was really cool to be a part of. There’s a lot of darkness in it, a lot of action, and it’s about a group of women who are very badass on their motorcycles. They help this girl who was victimised. There’s romance involved, which is the beauty in it.
Kirstie: What drew you to a revenge horror that pits a biker gang against frat boys?
Vanessa: I mean that’s just badass on its own. You have these boys who think they’re powerful and almighty even though they’re just these college guys taking advantage of young girls. And these women find that out and all they want to do is get revenge. They seek them out and they start a war. There are a lot of fight scenes. The girl that gets victimised, she gets initiated into the group of girls and ends up in the middle of it. Yes, she wants her revenge, but she also wants peace at the end. She doesn’t want hatred to take over. She’s not there for the killing part of it.
Jake: I like playing bad guys. That’s something I do a lot, for whatever reason. I thought that this was an interesting way to portray a character that exists in the world, and the kind of person that people don’t suspect all that much. Recently, people suspect it more, but it’s bringing that to life and trying to create as much grounding as possible that’s an interesting challenge. People like this tend to seem villainous so overtly. We’re trying to bring some humanity to him so the familiarity of people like this is felt by the audience, so that they recognise that this could be your neighbour, it could be someone’s son that you know, and that’s the harsh reality of it. These people aren’t running around with “I want to take advantage of women” on their shirt. They’re the guys wearing a button-down, short-sleeved shirt. That’s how they’re able to take advantage of people, the way Keegan does of Mary.
Kirstie: You say you’re used to playing bad guys, but this character parallels a lot of criminals who people defend even when they do awful things. Was there anything particularly difficult about humanising a character like that compared to more obvious villains?
Jake: Yeah, it was really hard to find a way in. Owning the character and becoming someone who is okay with this, I had to close myself down pretty heavily. I had to lose a little bit of my empathy to be able to be okay with his actions for the time that we filmed. That’s the beauty of acting, that’s the fun – you try to figure out why people are okay with certain things. It was difficult to recognise, for instance, abuse at home from a father to a mother, and if that’s okay, it makes this okay. Those types of thought lines, those questions “why” that you have to answer were really interesting, and it was also troubling recognising that those paths are reality for some people.
Kirstie: Your film covers some very sensitive topics without detracting from the action and the fun of the film. What was your secret to landing that balance between serious themes and the excitement of a fun action film?
Jake: I have to give all the props to Melanie [Aitkenhead], the director. It was a super collaborative experience, but Melanie had the unifying vision of it all. Having a woman director was super important, and one of the main producers was a woman as well. Having their insights allowed for there to be the correct balance. Even when the intent is good, it can still end up single-sided from a male perspective. It was great to have Melanie there to create that balance. She’s a young director, crushing it, and she did a great job. I had one person to deal with, while she had to handle the main actors and all the support cast, so props to her.
Vanessa: Yeah, Melanie was great. She always let us run with our choices. She directed us, of course, and she had her specifications, but overall she let us act however we wanted to. For the role of Mary, it kept this balance that wasn’t too depressing to watch. You could get excited and have a fun time as well. If you go through a traumatic experience in your life, we do grow. She did find a support group of women who she was able to stand up for herself with and she really became this light after this darkness attacked her. That’s hard to do, so I commend her for that.
Kirstie: The story of your character Mary does heavily hinge on this one traumatic incident, but you play her in a way that gives her a very full character that isn’t defined just by that one experience. What was your trick to striking that balance?
Vanessa: She didn’t let this event take control of her – she took control of it. I think the reason it was easy to make that transition is because she is humble and she believes in what’s right. Yes, she gets her revenge, but she’s a good person who doesn’t want to cause people pain. She just wants justice. The real justice would obviously be if they got sent to prison, but that’s not the storyline.
Jake: I have to give Vanessa props for that one because actors like to feel everything, and they want to be in their emotions a lot of times. To see someone struggle to come out of that was really good – that’s what makes you want to fight for them. For an audience, you want to fight for someone, and you only want to do that when you see them fighting for themselves. I thought she did a great job of that.
Kirstie: Your film examines assault from every angle – from the victim, their friends, the people who didn’t/couldn’t stop it, the people who did it, the people who actively covered it up to protect their own interests – and does it all in a concise space of time. How did you go about getting that right?
Vanessa: I think the script gets all the credit for that. There is a huge spectrum, and everyone got to tell their story, whether they’re coming from an evil place or a nice place. It did fall together very beautifully and connected very well. You understand the story; it wasn’t scattered. They were in order and it made it very tight.
Jake: It’s always fun to see the different perspectives. You have the extremes. You have the biker gang led by Trigga, who are no-holds-barred prepared to beat the hell out of whoever f***s with them. And then you have the other side of things: my character and his guys. And you have the world view. There’s Maggie and Brian going “Hold on, this doesn’t make sense, we’re driving ourselves further into trouble by going down this route”. Brian tries to stand up to these people doing bad things and gets caught up because of his circumstance, getting lumped in with them. I don’t know if I tracked it right away, but listening to the questions coming up from people who have seen it, there was a really nice balance that allowed for the audience to experience that fly-on-the-wall observer position along with the Brian and Maggie characters.
Kirstie: As actors, do you find yourself drawn to films like this that explore these serious themes?
Jake: Yes. What’s interesting about this is what’s grey about these people. I think a lot of times when it’s super black and white, it allows for super clear communication, but the grey is the most relative to our humanity. The balance, the in-betweens – that’s how I write. Those are the people that inspire me because nothing – well, maybe not nothing – but a lot of things aren’t ever perfectly black and white.
Vanessa: As an actor, you want to take any role you can. It might be very challenging, but that’s what makes acting so much fun. Once you create the character and you have control over it and you understand it, it’s easy from there on out. Obviously that’s dependent on the role. This is the grittiest character I’ve ever played. It’s the role the with the most gruesome elements and blood and gore to it.
Kirstie: Your film really doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the brutal violence. What were those scenes like to shoot?
Vanessa: They were intense, but they were a lot of fun! We were all just dripping in syrup. We were in this old warehouse and the walls were crumbling – chunks would just drop near you. It was raining so hard that we thought for a moment it was going to collapse. Thank God it didn’t! We are all safe! The thing is when you’re doing independent movies like this, that’s what happens. You’re in scenarios that are a little bit different than when you’re shooting in a studio.
Jake: I’m a martial arts guy now. I’m becoming an instructor. It’s really interesting to see the choreography that comes behind it. It’s all based on timing, and the camera angles are super important, as well as the order of thinking, so that everything makes sense, so you don’t have people dying in one shot and still fighting in the background of the next. All that stuff is really collaborative, and you get to see the team coming together in big scenes where literally everybody in the main cast was there, including maybe fifteen or twenty actual members of the biker gang that helped us make the film. It was an interesting collaboration for sure.
Kirstie: What was it like having an actual biker gang on set?
Vanessa: They were so awesome. They shared their biker stories. It’s not up to me to say them – it’s their own gritty experiences. But they were just so open and welcoming and badass. They made me feel super comfortable. I had to strip down bare at one point in front of twenty of them, and they complimented my boobs, which was nice. I felt very welcomed and accepted. They were dope.
Kirstie: How are you finding your Grimmfest 2020 experience so far?
Jake: I have a lot of things going on here, so I’m not able to participate as much as I would like. But I love that, in the middle of a pandemic, you have something that’s still such a great collaboration. The beauty of art is that you have these different circles. You have the movie, and then you have the press, and then you have the people that are viewing it. It all becomes this one big team. With Grimmfest having to cancel and move everything online this year, just seeing people’s perseverance to still share their stories and projects is really awesome. Especially in such a nuanced genre – you see the love. It’s nice to see that all come together on a project that you’ve worked on. And it’s been a couple of years. You don’t always know what’s going to happen with these things. To find people relating to it the way they are, and with how topical it is, it’s honestly been nicely surprising to hear how it’s affecting people. You’re the first interviewer we’ve had that’s been a woman and it’s nice to see the things that are connecting for you and knowing that we’re a part of a project that was so well conceived.
Vanessa: I am super grateful to be a part of this festival because I am a horror fanatic. Anything Stephen King, hook me up. I love it all.
Kirstie: What do you hope people take away from your film?
Vanessa: I hope that they’re aware that this is a constant horrible thing that happens all over the world. I want more awareness. I know there’s the #metoo movement, which is beautiful, seeing women supporting women. In one of the scenes when Mary wakes up on the cement, there are girls that mock her and call her names like “slut”, instead of helping her and taking care of her and listening and consoling her. I think it’s important, whoever you are, to be aware that people have feelings, and always show them love.
Jake: These are not imaginary things. These are real situations, unfortunately. Recognising the gravity of them is extremely important, and finding ways to give voice to those that have dealt with that is part of this. Giving people an opportunity to realise that they can fight back, in one way or another. Maybe not in this way, but this is the embodiment of an idea that you can fight back and your story is valid. I want people to walk away with a question: what would I do? Would I be the Brian standing up to these guys? Would I be the Maggie who sees the good intent but also sees her friends becoming what they don’t want to become? It’s good for people to recognise that you can get what you need without becoming what you hate. And also that it’s a fun movie to watch.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in getting into film?
Vanessa: It is a tough business. You are going to have to deal with a lot of being denied. But you’ll grow from it. If it’s something you truly want to be a part of and you truly enjoy acting, I say push for it. Try your hardest. Be healthy mentally as well as physically. That’s honestly the best trick.
Jake: You’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a lifestyle, and not because you want to be an actor. Come here and treat it like a job, as if you’re working a 9-to-5, or doing a solid eight hours a day. How do you work that eight hours a day? What do you do? That’s what you do here. You don’t make it to the next level by treating it like a hobby. You get the results of a hobby if you do that.
Revenge Ride is screening at Grimmfest 2020 from 7-11 October.